(CANADIAN PRESS) — Two Quebec men remained in a Martinique jail Friday after a sailboat, brimming with cocaine, was set ablaze on open water earlier this month in what authorities say was a desperate attempt to destroy evidence.
The massive amount of cocaine seized on the vessel in the Caribbean Sea was most likely destined for Canada, said French authorities.
Compelling video taken by French customs agents show the boat on fire and officials trying to douse the flames in choppy water.
“The investigation is ongoing under the supervision of a judge, and one of the main strands is to liaise with Canadian authorities,” Jean-Damien Moustier, the senior French officer in charge of drug enforcement in Martinique, said in an interview.
Moustier said the cocaine was likely coming from Venezuela, where much of the intercepted product in the area originates.
The final port of call for the boat, which was clearly affixed with a Fleur-de-lis, was not in doubt.
“The destination of the drugs was the Canadian market,” he said.
Moustier cited French laws in declining to name the suspects, but Le Journal de Montreal identified them earlier this week as men in their 50s from the Riviere-du-Loup area, about 200 kilometres northeast of Quebec City.
The operation began July 18 when customs officials, the regional coast guard and the French frigate Germinal were dispatched to intercept a sailboat they suspected was being used to traffic drugs.
They caught up with the vessel on the evening of July 19, but rough waters prevented the customs officials from getting close enough to secure it.
They said the occupants agreed to follow customs officials to the island of Saint Martin the next day, only to abandon the boat the next morning.
The vessel was set on fire and the skipper and another occupant took refuge in a life-raft.
The fire was quickly brought under control and authorities say they managed to salvage some 1,506 kilograms of cocaine in bundles while detaining the two Canadian suspects.
Moustier described the seizure as an exceptional haul.
The men appeared in court Tuesday and were ordered detained by a judge in Fort-de-France.